Theatre review: Dorothea’s Story, London

IT’S either mad or inspired to present a three-part, four-month, in-rep adaptation of the George Eliot’s major novel Middlemarch. Yet if you can’t do it in your 42nd and last year at the theatre you founded, when can you?
Dorotheas Story: A surprisingly light-on-its-feet stagingDorotheas Story: A surprisingly light-on-its-feet staging
Dorotheas Story: A surprisingly light-on-its-feet staging

Dorothea’s Story - Orange Tree, London

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Thus Orange Tree artistic director Sam Walters allows Geoffrey Beevers to direct his own ambitious adaptation – and the delightful news is that it’s a move that turns out, on the evidence of this first part of the trilogy, to be inspired.

What is most cherishable is that Dorothea’s Story is a surprisingly light-on-its-feet staging, with an immensely pleasing lack of faffing about with furniture and props; a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, for example, is evoked by some clever choreography on a simple wooden table. This leads to a streamlined flow of narrative, characters and scenes, as Beevers slices skilfully across strands of the book. Future instalments will focus on The Doctor’s Story and Fred and Mary.

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A compelling trip through the doomed marriage of misguided, idealistic Dorothea Brooke (Georgina Strawson) and the crusty clergyman Mr Casaubon (Jamie Newall) provides the first half. After such intensity, elegantly conveyed via sophisticated dialogue and the occasional well-judged line of narration, the second half is frustratingly centrifugal.

There are a couple of abrupt, under-explained scenes that feel as though they have wandered in from a different part of the trilogy and I never quite believed in the ardour between Dorothea and Will (Ben Lambert). Nonetheless, a terrific achievement.